#148 It is Better to Supply than to Demand

the christian economist dave arnott

#148 It is Better to Supply than to Demand

We used to get our identity from what we supplied, now we get our identity from what we demand.  Christians should get their identity from being made in the image of God. 

Your Name

What’s your name?  Even more interesting, what’s it mean? That is the beginning of an interesting exercise in class at Dallas Baptist University.  If it’s Mill, like the philosopher John Stuart Mill, someone in your lineage ran the mill.  If it’s Smith, like that guy, Adam Smith, someone was a black smith or tin smith or silver smith.  Farmer is obvious, as is Shumacher.  A cooper made wooden barrels, and a winnegar tended a vineyard where they made wine.  Examples go on and on.  So, at one time in history, people had no choice.  If your Dad ran the mill, you were going to run the mill.  If he was a farmer, you were going to be a farmer.  But in modern life, people have a choice.  Oh, historically women had NO choice.  It is estimated that at the time of Jesus, women had to have nine pregnancies, to produce one child who would reach the age of reproduction to keep the population stable.  Think about it: If women averaged eight, we wouldn’t be here.  So in modern times, women have been freed to pursue any field of economic production they choose.  

When Jesus first started preaching, they asked, “Who is this man, and where is He From?”  In New Testament times, a person’s identity was tied to his family lineage, and geography.  In John 1:46, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  In Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias makes this point.  When he would lecture back in his home country of India, he was known for his family’s lineage, which was impressive.  My paternal grandmother’s family lived on the Thames river, just south of London.  Since they lived at the water, the family name was “Atwater.”   

Oh, my title today, “It’s better to supply than demand, ” is a re-wording of the old bromide, “It’s better to give than to receive.”  I sometimes use that quip in a quite sarcastic way when handing out a quiz to students at Dallas Baptist University. 

Supply Side vs Demand Side

The field of economics can be divided into two groups: Austrians and Keynesians.  I am an Austrian, following the lead of Ludwig von Mises, then Frederick Hayek….yea, THAT guy, and Milton Friedman.  We believe in GROWING the pie via producing on the supply side.  Keynesians follow John Maynard Keynes, who was succeeded by Paul Samuelson and Paul Krugman and now just about every political operative on the left, who wants to redistribute the supply of goods and services.  They believe in DIVIDING the pie, by distributing goods on the demand side.  In podcast #116 titled “The Resurgence of Socialism,” I point out that Socialists are great at demand, but terrible at supplying demand.  

So here’s the interesting part.  Carl Trueman is a theologian from the UK who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.  There he is with DBU President Dr. Adam Wright, during an appearance at my University recently.  In his chapel speech at DBU he invoked the same concept I use in class: That some last names indicate job titles: Mill, Smith, Farmer, Shoemaker, etc.  And he said that, historically, that’s where we received our identity.  But NOW, we receive more of our identity from what we CONSUME.  So our identity has changed from production to consumption.  From supply to demand.  We get our identity from the car we drive, the house we live in, the sports and concert tickets we purchase, even from the University or church we attend.  Oh, Carl Trueman also wrote the best book I’ve read this year, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, but that subject does not apply to my theme today, so watch for that unpacking in a later podcast.  And, good news for non-theologians like me: There is a shorter version of the book, under another name.   

Image of God

We’re supposed to gain our identity from our relationship with God.  Okay, I’ll admit, in a social group, when asked what I do, I have never responded, “I’m a follower of Christ.”  I get it, what we DO is important.  But Carl Trueman has me thinking about which of the DO’s I should concentrate on: Supplying or demanding.  

If you love your neighbor, you will supply her with products and services she demands.  If you love yourself, you will make a profit while doing so.  You see, this indicates that the production of goods serves others FIRST, then the supplier gets served.  Wal-Mart is a good example: They bought the land, erected the building, hired labor, and stuffed about $4 million worth of goods in the store, before selling a SINGLE ITEM!  They are serving their fellow humans first, by supplying their demands, then they get served last. 

But, we get too much of our identity from what we consume.  Marketers know this.  They play on our disease, which can be broken into two parts: DIS EASE.  The obvious appeals are to looks: Cosmetics, perfume, and even plastic surgery, all say to the consumer: Your DIS EASE can be cured by our product or service.  The automobile industry is almost insulting in their claim, “You DIS EASE will be cured by driving this sports car or this pickup truck.”  God doesn’t want us to get our image from a piece of steel or plastic that we demand.  He wants us to get our image from our relationship with Him.

Passion is Overrated

Just before graduation, I show a five-minute PragerU video to my seniors, featuring Mike Rowe.  It’s titled Don’t Follow Your Passion.  His reason is different from mine.  He says, “You might not be GOOD at your passion.”  My reason is: Because seeking YOUR passion satisfies YOU.  Who ever said life was about YOU?!  According to the Christian Worldview, it’s about serving others.  If you love your neighbor, you will supply her with products and services she demands.  If you love yourself, you will make a profit while doing so.  It’s so clear that the Biblical command of serving others brings more life satisfaction than serving yourself, and that’s what Mike Rowe is talking about.  

Peter Drucker said, “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.  It is what the customer gets out of it.”  That’s especially true in Christian Economics.  Karl Marx thought prices should be set by the amount of labor put INTO something.  He was wrong.  The market demander determines the value of a product or service, not the suppliers.  

Every Good Endeavor

In his book, by that title, Tim Keller writes, “Many young people see the process of career selection more as the choice of an identity marker than a consideration of gifting and passions to contribute to the world.”  He goes on to write that occupational choices are driven by the “cool” factor.  It sounds cool to study law, or work for a non-profit that’s going to save the world.  But the question is, “Were you CALLED to study law or save the world?  I often visit with High School seniors and their parents who are at Dallas Baptist University on a tire-kicking visit.   I tell them that if they’re looking at my College of Business because their Dad or uncle was in business, that’s a very bad reason.  And, it’s equally bad if their buddy is across the hall with the College of Christian Faith group because they’re trying to please their very cool high school pastor.  

When our athletes take the court at DBU, they pass under a banner that reads “An Audience of One.”  It’s the title of a chapter from a book by Oz Guiness titled The Call.  He explains in great detail that the only thing that would satisfy Andrew Carnegie’s mother, would be to ride in a lavishly decorated coach pulled by six horses, through the main street of Dunfermline, the little town in Scotland where she left in embarrassment and penury.  She wanted to show them she was now rich.  What a waste of a life.  Who are you trying to impress? Is the question I ask the high school students who are considering attending DBU.  How about “An Audience of One?”  

When our students graduate, we all show up in the most formal setting on campus, the Bo and Patty Pilgrim Chapel.  As a student faces our president, Dr. Adam Wright, and locks eyes with him while receiving the diploma, I want to know, “So who’s out there in the audience?”  Who did you do this for?  We all have an answer.  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask, “Who’s UP there?”  I think it’s fantastic that when a player hits a home run, he often circles the bases, and as he steps on home plate, he points upward.  That’s the point Carl Trueman is making when he asks about supply or demand.  What is your motivation in supplying or demanding?  Is it “Hey, look at what I bought?” which is on the demand side, or is it “Hey, look what I gave?”  Which is on the supply side.  

In the Christian worldview, we believe our work command starts in creation.  God is seen working in the very first chapter of Genesis.  Adam and Eve have work to do.  John Calvin’s key verse was Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, work.  I like to stop there.   But the scripture continues Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.

 So work is good.  This is one of the Ten Biblical Commandments of Economics that Sergiy Saydometov and I found when we were writing the book Biblical Economic Policy.  The value of work is when we SERVE others by supplying their demands.  It’s not when we demand things to impress others.

Another quote from Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor is appropriate here, “Think of the cliché that nobody gets to the end of their life and wishes they had spent more time at the office.  It makes good sense, of course, up to a point.  But here’s a more interesting perspective: At the end of your life, will you wish that you had plunged more of your time, passion, and skills into work environments and work products that helped people?”  It is better to supply than to demand.